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Winter Olympics debate: For and against a boycott

So So Gay takes a look at the ongoing debate about whether or not Team GB and other nations should boycott the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Earlier this week we brought you the news about the calls for athletes, fans and entire nations to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, in light of the appalling treatment of LGBT people in the country.

Here at So So Gay, we believe there are two sides to every argument; therefore, Tom Hayes (UKPositiveLad) presents the case for a boycott and Lee Williscroft-Ferris against.


For a boycott

In around six months time, the 22nd Winter Olympics are due to be held in Sochi, Russia. This, in my opinion, cannot be allowed to happen and if it does, then I would hope athletes and tourists around the world will boycott the event. Let me explain my reasoning…

On 30 June of this year, Vladimir Putin signed an ‘anti-homosexual propaganda’ bill into law, a bill which imposes jail terms and fines of up to 200,000 rubles for those found guilty of disseminating propaganda that may cause a ‘distorted understanding’ that gay and heterosexual relations are ‘socially equivalent’. St Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov has even gone as far as to say that the new laws will apply to both tourists and athletes visiting Sochi in 2014.

This bill, only a month in law, has already sparked bullying, vigilante violence and even murder targeted towards LGBT people – but especially teens across Russia. Many of you will have seen the videos that were posted online last week of some of these horrific acts – they were both soul-destroying and infuriating at the same time.

Then we come to the Olympics. The three Olympic values are ‘Friendship, Respect and Excellence’ – along with the four Paralympic values; ‘Determination, Inspiration, Courage and Equality’. The IOC values document goes further to define equality: ‘Everyone has basic rights and emotional needs, no matter whether we have disabilities or belong to a different race, religion or sexuality. The idea of commonality and sameness although we are all different.’ Clearly, the two are at odds – some, myself included, would say completely incompatible. But what can we do?

Well, unless you happen to work for the IOC or the Russian government, there’s not a great deal you can do directly. That’s where personal activism comes into play. A number of people have suggested a boycott on Russian vodka, but in truth many of these vodkas are owned by international conglomerates and will have no impact on official dictat.

What would really hurt those in power is the potential international embarrassment of having a prestigious event such as the Winter Olympics either taken from them and awarded to another country, or fall flat on its face due to a widespread athlete and tourist boycott – both would be a disaster for Russia, a fiercely proud nation.

The fact is that without outside pressure, Russia will be in no rush to repeal the repellent homophobic laws that they’ve just instated. Just as you wouldn’t reward a badly behaved child with a trip to Disneyland, we mustn’t reward Russia’s recent behaviour by letting them go ahead with hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics – to do so would be seen as condoning Russia’s worrying behaviour, something I for one won’t stand by and let happen.


Against a boycott

It’s entirely understandable that some people are clamouring for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics, given the horrific events unfolding in Russia. However, the reality is that a boycott would have very little impact beyond depriving athletes of an opportunity to compete. For a boycott to have any meaningful impact, it would necessitate the participation of a large proportion of competing nations. Let’s be honest – how likely is it that more socially conservative countries would take a stand for LGBT rights?

What you would be left with in the aftermath of a half-hearted boycott would simply be a raft of disappointed athletes and very little progress in the fightback against the oppression perpetrated by the Russian government. There are other, more viable options.

Leading Russian LGBT activist and lawyer, Nikolai Alekseev

Leading Russian LGBT activist and lawyer, Nikolai Alekseev

Nikolai Alekseev, the public face of Russian LGBT activism, has decided to organise Sochi Pride to coincide with the event. This is a highly risky course of action, given the latest legislation imposing a federal ban of Pride rallies. However, it is also an extremely clever idea. After all, even if we assume that Putin is not genuine when he promises that the ‘anti-gay propaganda bill’ will not apply to visiting delegations to the games, it will leave the Kremlin in an incredibly difficult position with precious little room for manoeuvre in a situation whereby international activists join local campaigners to march for an end to the madness. Arresting scores of activists from all over the world would be nothing short of a PR disaster for Putin and his cronies.

Of course, one could also argue that a far more effective way forward would be for athletes to stage a protest at the games themselves. While it is a universally accepted notion that the lines between politics and sport should not be blurred, it is perhaps worth asking whether the dire situation in Russia nullifies that principle.

The 1968 Summer Olympics saw one of the most memorable protests in sporting history, when African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a defiant salute during their medal ceremony. Smith would later claim that, despite assumptions that the act was a ‘Black Power salute’, it was actually a general act in support of ‘human rights’. Regardless, the event is indelibly etched in Olympic history and, even though the pair were ultimately expelled from the games, the point was made.

Is there a case for saying that, rather than staying away from the event, instead, athletes should attend and make very public displays of opposition to what is happening to LGBT Russians? One suggestion doing the rounds on social media is for nations to feature a Pride flag in a corner of their national flag. While I suspect that protocol and IOC rules may prevent this from happening, I am under no doubt that boycotting the games entirely is the less favourable option. Finding a way to make a viable, visible protest at the games must surely be the most sensible way to proceed.


Click here to sign the e-Petition calling for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics.



1 Comment

  1. Gordon Nixon

    3 Aug 2013 at 19:18

    I agree with Tom.
    The Kremlin came out yesterday saying that LGBT athletes and supporters would be welcome, but any who ‘propogandised’ would be arrested and would not be immune from the new laws. This would make any attempted Pride march (which would be dealt with violently) almost impossible.
    Take the WInter Olympics away from Russia and give them back to Canada. They would likely be in the best position to host them since they had them most recently.

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